Hosted VOIP services or hosted PBX services are terms used to describe a cloud-based IP-PBX phone solution for businesses. In effect, a business branch office can plug IP phones into their local LAN and if the VOIP phones are pre-configured by the hosted VOIP service provider, they will connect to the cloud IP-PBX over the WAN network of the business. This setup enables a business office to have a professional phone system up and running very quickly. Since the VOIP service is hosted, it also provides cost savings and operational advantages.
In terms of the architecture, the VOIP phones on the office LAN can be manually and statically configured, but the more common method is for them to get IP addresses from a DHCP server automatically. Your office gateway will be entered as the “VOIP Gateway” for the phones, so that they know to connect via that gateway IP address when communicating with the outside world, including the mothership PBX.
Your hosted VOIP provider heavily relies on clean and stable WAN connectivity from your office to the cloud PBX they are using. But before we get to that, one very important aspect is your local network. It is advised to have solid LAN wiring and quality LAN switches to support VOIP applications. To be frank, LAN is the easy part of the equation, but nonetheless is sometimes overlooked.
There are many hosted VOIP providers, including, but not limited to (in alphabetical order):
- Earthlink (now Windstream),
- Evolve IP,
- Fonality (now NetFortris),
- Freedom IQ,
- Phone Power,
- Skype Business,
- Virtual PBX,
- Vocalocity (now Vonage),
- XO Communications and others.
In most cases, you can either procure the IP phones from the hosted VOIP provider, or you may procure then separately provided they support standard VOIP protocol. We recommend you buy the VOIP phones from your hosted VOIP provider to avoid any configuration related issues.
Choosing your hosted VOIP provider is also important. Not all the service providers listed above are created equal. A good checklist should include the ping times from your location, the fail-over strategies they have on their hosting of the PBXs, and their promised SLAs. Needless to say their pricing structure (per extension, per minute, monthly, annually, etc.) is and should be an important factor. Take into account your growth projections and how your cost will be affected. A good question to ask is if you can transfer your phone numbers when/if you leave that service provider for another hosted VOIP provider. You certainly don’t want to be locked because of your inbound phone numbers being locked down to a particular provider.
Perhaps one of the most important pillars of your VOIP strategy should be your WAN (Wide Area Network). For WAN connectivity, the traditional approach for professional VOIP service has been heavy investment in an MPLS infrastructure. MPLS is a layer2 network that is usually provided by a single carrier and uses layer2 labels instead of layer3 routing. The downside of MPLS is the dependency on a single carrier (i.e. if the carrier is having problems, your VOIP system will be down), the high costs involved both in installation as well as on-going fees, lead times for activating MPLS and finally, the availability. The SLAs promised by MPLS services can be illusive, often promising only to credit the amount prorated by the downtime you experience (which can be negligible compared to the cost of that downtime to your business).
For mission critical VOIP services, we recommend a multi-WAN strategy where the dependency on ISPs is spread over at least 2, and preferably more providers. A cost-effective WAN Orchestrator focused on VOIP traffic can be used as a gateway for the VOIP/SIP traffic to add high reliability and low latency.
Cahit Akin, CEO, Mushroom Networks, Inc.
Mushroom Networks is the provider of SD-WAN (Software Defined WAN) and NFV solutions capable of Broadband Bonding that enables self-healing WAN networks that route around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss.